The perfect view of Portsmouth’s naval base

Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard
Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard
The loss of HMS Eurydice during a squall.

NOSTALGIA: Ghostly sightings of Portsmouth frigate lost in snowstorm 140 years ago

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In 1953 William Tofts became a guide in HMS Victory which in those days was well received.

The sailors lived on board and slept in hammocks just like Nelson’s men 150 years before. The sailors were trained in the spiel and to pass out they had to escort a colour sergeant around the ship talking to him as if he were a visitor.

In those days the dockyard was not as open as it is today. Visitors waited in a room by the Main Gate on the Hard (now Victory Gate) and were escorted to and from Victory by Royal Marines.

It was while serving in Victory that William got himself into trouble. It was the day of the Coronation Review at Spithead in 1953 and newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth and members of the Royal Family, using the Trinity House vessel Patricia as a makeshift Royal Yacht, steamed along lines of hundreds of ships anchored in the Solent and at Spithead.

To get a better view William and his mate decided to climb the rigging of the main mast of the Victory. They scampered up the ratlines to the fighting-top and then up to the cross-trees at the head of the top mast. From here they had the perfect view of what was going on outside the harbour.

Unfortunately they were seen on their precarious perch and ordered down where they received a dressing down from the Officer of the Watch. (The only men allowed up on the rigging were dockyard riggers with harnesses although today this has been stopped and a hydraulic cherry picker is used.)